At this point, you don’t even need to hear the words or listen to the explanations — and what are they going to say, anyway? How are the Yankees going to describe what has happened to this season that was such a dream-cast just 15 minutes ago? How do you explain the inexplicable?
No. All you need to do is look at the eyes. Look at the faces. Look at the Yankees in the dugout these days, looking tortured, looking troubled, looking utterly bewitched and bewildered by what’s happening to them. They lost again Saturday night to Tampa Bay, 2-1. Their lead in the AL East is down to four games. It’s three in the loss column.
It is no longer an abstract notion that the Yankees could collapse.
They are collapsing. Their eyes tell you that much. Their body language tells you that much. And if any of the Yankees were given truth serum, maybe what they’d do is channel an old Red Sox shortstop named Rick (Rooster) Burleson who, after the fourth game of the Boston Massacre 44 years ago, shook his head and gave one of the most honest quotes in the history of quotes.
“Every day,” Burleson said, “you sit in front of your locker and ask God, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ”
What the hell is going on?
Hell, that’s what’s going on. Baseball hell. The Yankees are in such a collective hitting funk it actually felt like a positive consolation prize when Aaron Judge slammed a home run — No. 52 — in the ninth inning Saturday, snapping a 21-inning scoring drought for the Yankees.
The Yankees are living under such a dark cloud that it didn’t matter a bit that the Rays tried their best to hand them a freebie, making a couple of awful errors early, running themselves out of what should’ve been a seventh inning rife with insurance runs. Didn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. The Yankees are in such a bad place they aren’t even accepting gifts.
None of this makes sense. Not a bit of it. The Yankees are still the better team on paper in just about every game they play. But they are also showing a skin that’s paper-thin. A five-game winning streak from Aug. 21-26 that seemed to have halted all the negative mojo feels like it happened months ago.
And every day, they sit in the dugout, sit in front of their lockers, and bear a look that distinctly asks: “What the hell is going on?”
Or, as manager Aaron Boone said: “If we don’t dig ourselves out, you’ll have a great story.”
Great, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. The Yankees don’t want any part of that story. Yankees fans want no part of that story. Yet every day is a fresh chapter. Every day is a case study in a team trapped in its own head. Every game is a thesis in just how easy it is to lose baseball games once you hit the slippery slope.
“There has to be some level of relaxing a little bit,” Boone said. “Walking that fine line in a failing game. We’ve got to be tough-minded right now.”
Boone speaks of winning small victories now, of winning at-bats, of working counts, of stacking quality at-bats. It is sound strategy, sure, one that sounds perfectly reasonable in the quiet of a postgame manager’s office. And one that can sometimes be difficult to translate in a game
Right now, it feels as if the Yankees are trying to translate the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“We’re not where we want to be,” Giancarlo Stanton said, “but we still have a fine opportunity.”
Said Boone: “It’s right there. We have the same conversation every day. We’ve got to find a way, we’ve got to score. We’ve got thing right here to grab and take and we’re still in control of that.”
Through much of August, that’s what sustained the Yankees: As bad as they were playing, they’d built such a cushion that they should be able to right themselves and not have to spend one moment sweating. But they are sure sweating now.
They sure look perplexed in the dugout, and in the postgame clubhouse, trying to explain away one loss after another, trying to make sense of how 15 ½ games became four. No need to ask if the Yankees can collapse. They are collapsing. There are still 29 games to go, still plenty of time to right the ship.
And still plenty of time to sink it.